"Last Year's Man" as written by and Leonard Cohen....
The rain falls down on last year's man,
That's a Jew's harp on the table,
That's a crayon in his hand.
And the corners of the blueprint are ruined since they rolled
Far past the stems of thumbtacks
That still throw shadows on the wood.
And the skylight is like skin for a drum I'll never mend
And all the rain falls down amen
On the works of last year's man.

I met a lady, she was playing with her soldiers in the dark
Oh one by one she had to tell them
That her name was Joan of Arc.
I was in that army, yes I stayed a little while;
I want to thank you, Joan of Arc,
For treating me so well.

And though I wear a uniform I was not born to fight;
All these wounded boys you lie beside,
Goodnight, my friends, goodnight.

I came upon a wedding that old families had contrived;
Bethlehem the bridegroom,
Babylon the bride.
Great Babylon was naked, oh she stood there trembling for me,
And Bethlehem inflamed us both
Like the shy one at some orgy.
And when we fell together all our flesh was like a veil
That I had to draw aside to see
The serpent eat its tail.

Some women wait for Jesus, and some women wait for Cain
So I hang upon my altar
And I hoist my axe again.
And I take the one who finds me back to where it all began
When Jesus was the honeymoon
And Cain was just the man.
And we read from pleasant Bibles that are bound in blood and skin
That the wilderness is gathering
All its children back again.

The rain falls down on last year's man,
An hour has gone by
And he has not moved his hand.
But everything will happen if he only gives the word;
The lovers will rise up
And the mountains touch the ground.
But the skylight is like skin for a drum I'll never mend
And all the rain falls down amen
On the works of last year's man.


Lyrics submitted by Hosimosi

"Last Year's Man" as written by Leonard Cohen

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

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Last Year's Man song meanings
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  • +1
    General CommentI think Last years man is actually god. Its very rare to find songs like this, and i think we all should make some effort to listen to them before we forget the concept of artistic merit.
    KingOfMartyrTownon September 17, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI read this differently. To me, it is about a writer experiencing the pain of being the jilted lover, and also a writing slump. The opening is a description of the room he is sitting in today, down to the detail about the shadows of the thumbtacks. The rain is falling down on him because the skylight is leaking. He won't fix it, probably because it's beyond repair or he doesn't have the energy. The stanza about Joan of Arc is describing a lover who chose emotionally wounded men as her companions. In the dating scene, it's hard to know what women want- soem want their man to be a saint, and some a demon. He's hoping for someone willing to let him be human, like Cain before his fall. In the last stanza, nothing has happened, because he hasn't written anything to be able to give it life yet. But there is potential for his words to make miracles happen in the world of a song, where he is God.

    I also love the imagery and the solitude. I think this is wonderfully written song.

    hauntedfoxon March 19, 2009   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationOK - I'm a long-time cohen fan, but this song has always occupied a lot on the periphery of his classic songs - perhaps because I find it almost unapproachably personal.

    Anyway, I've had some time recently (singing along in the car) to try and analyse what he might have attempted here, and I was blown away by the implications - but maybe you can tell me if I'm on the right track or not ...

    here goes:

    The rain falls down on last year's man,
    that's a jew's harp on the table,
    that's a crayon in his hand.

    this is cohen at work - his tools are that of a (primitive) folk musician and a (primitive) architect.
    His work is in the process of being ruined/blessed.

    And the corners of the blueprint are ruined since they rolled
    far past the stems of thumbtacks
    that still throw shadows on the wood.

    his plans, too far-reaching as they turned out, have obscured the view of forest (wood) for the trees (stems).

    And the skylight is like skin for a drum I'll never mend
    and all the rain falls down amen
    on the works of last year's man.

    This is the covering before of the source of light, the source of song, that has become ragged, letting the rain fall in, at once a blessing and a curse.

    I met a lady, she was playing with her soldiers in the dark
    oh one by one she had to tell them
    that her name was Joan of Arc.

    Now we have a strong, powerful woman who plays with warriors and then reveals that her loyalty is with the kingdom and not with them or their feelings of love. She has a higher calling - to be a warrior herself.

    I was in that army, yes I stayed a little while;
    I want to thank you, Joan of Arc,
    for treating me so well.

    Well, look at this - cohen was one of these warriors! One of many, that is ...

    And though I wear a uniform I was not born to fight;
    all these wounded boys you lie beside,
    goodnight, my friends, goodnight.

    whom he calls "wounded" - by their lover, maybe? anyway, cohen bids farewell to all that ...

    I came upon a wedding that old families had contrived;
    Bethlehem the bridegroom,
    Babylon the bride.

    OK - now we get to the forementioned religious imagery - notice cohen wasn't invited as a guest, but he takes part - the question is: in which role? Now, I've been reading Robert Graves' King Jesus, which is gonna inform my take on this, but I would take "Bethlehem" to be the house of Joseph, of the Edomites (descended directly from Adam), hereditary royalty of the tribes of Israel. Babylon could refer to the house that the high priestesses of the G-ddess belong - they would naturally be identified with sin, since Jehovah's followers needed to demonize the older religion. So, by extension what we may have here is a marriage between Adam and Eve, between the G-d and the G-ddes ...

    Great Babylon was naked, oh she stood there trembling for me,
    and Bethlehem inflamed us both
    like the shy one at some orgy.
    And when we fell together all our flesh was like a veil
    that I had to draw aside to see
    the serpent eat its tail.

    Now Eve presents herself to cohen, suggested that he may be Adam and the third party at once. She is unashamed of her nakedness, while Adam (cohen) is shy. The consummation of marriage is equated with the original fall from grace, and as he draws aside the bridal veil, the principle of eternal fall and resurrection, of renewal, is revealed.

    Some women wait for Jesus, and some women wait for Cain
    so I hang upon my altar
    and I hoist my axe again.

    These lines may be the key - some women wait for the redeemer-king and some for his killer; cohen will play both roles.

    And I take the one who finds me back to where it all began
    when Jesus was the honeymoon
    and Cain was just the man.

    It began with the conception of Jesus, or maybe the bodily union after the appointment of the new king, and it began with Cain as a man, not yet a regicide (soon to be the next king).

    And we read from pleasant Bibles that are bound in blood and skin
    that the wilderness is gathering
    all its children back again.

    Here I like to think of the Jewish tradition of wrapping the Torah around your arm and shoulder with a system of leather straps (but please correct me if I'm wrong here). On the other hand, these Bibles bound in blood and skin are of course us and our bodies, so that what's written in our bodies is to the effect that we are being drawn back to nature (and therefore to the G-ddess).

    The rain falls down on last year's man,
    an hour has gone by
    and he has not moved his hand.
    But everything will happen if he only gives the word;
    the lovers will rise up
    and the mountains touch the ground.

    So now we see that the rain may bring more fruitful crops than any plans cohen the architect can draft. In fact, he is frozen in inaction at this realisation. Now he is likened to G-d: his word holds the power to redeem mankind or reverse physical hierarchies.

    But the skylight is like skin for a drum I'll never mend
    and all the rain falls down amen
    on the works of last year's man.

    The new insight here is that the light and the song are better broken than mended, since that way the wild G-dess inspiration can fertilise last year's (failed) seed.

    I've probably gone a bit far with this, but I'm sure some of you will forgive me.


    snydalon May 09, 2009   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationIm not at all certain this is the correct interpretation of this song, but there is a kind of Buddhism/Nihilism going on in the lyrics to this song that a lot of people miss, mostly because they thing the song is "about" someone or something that is perceptible or tangible.

    If anything the song is "about" the futility of existence, but being acutely aware of it.

    "The rain falls down on last year's man,
    That's a Jew's harp on the table,
    That's a crayon in his hand.
    And the corners of the blueprint are ruined since they rolled
    Far past the stems of thumbtacks
    That still throw shadows on the wood."


    Last year's man, as in "last year's model;" someone who is no longer relevant, perhaps as perceived by the author in terms of glories past, and very probably a former lover of someone the author pines for, draws "blueprints" with a childs toy, despite appearances that he has a talent and a career to pursue. His blueprints fail because his approach is fundamentally flawed. He uses imprecise implements and does not take care not to fray the edges. The author has been dumped because of his own incompetence.

    "And the skylight is like skin for a drum I'll never mend
    And all the rain falls down amen
    On the works of last year's man."

    The table the implements sit on is indoors. There is a skylight above the author that he has not mended, rain falls down upon the blueprints he inexpertly draws. He neglects to repair the skylight, knowingly. Self sabotage condemns him to a cycle of poor causality.



    "I met a lady, she was playing with her soldiers in the dark
    Oh one by one she had to tell them
    That her name was Joan of Arc.
    I was in that army, yes I stayed a little while;
    I want to thank you, Joan of Arc,
    For treating me so well.

    And though I wear a uniform I was not born to fight;
    All these wounded boys you lie beside,
    Goodnight, my friends, goodnight."


    Clearly Joan of Arc is a former lover. This entire passage is a metaphor for a past relationship. "And though I wear a uniform, I was not born to fight." Their relationship ended, the first lines of the song taken into consideration, the author was at least partially responsible for the relationship ending.


    "I came upon a wedding that old families had contrived;
    Bethlehem the bridegroom,
    Babylon the bride.
    Great Babylon was naked, oh she stood there trembling for me,
    And Bethlehem inflamed us both
    Like the shy one at some orgy.
    And when we fell together all our flesh was like a veil
    That I had to draw aside to see
    The serpent eat its tail."

    Its unclear if this is an allusion to perhaps a love affair, or an elaborate metaphor about love itself. Either way, the "wedding that old families had contrived" is the love between two people. Babylon is carnality Bethlehem is the sense of spiritual connection that transcends mere acquaintance to actually caring for someone in a real and meaningful way. Carnality "trembles" love "enflames" that feeling. The last literally invokes imagery of Ouroboros, the ancient, circular Gnostic/Alchemical symbol for the universe. Life consuming death to live, yet die, yet live, yet die... etc. The symbol is such an integral part of ancient philosophy and alchemy that there is literally no way these lines amount to the author saying "I saw that love and sex were merely human pursuits, and could not satisfy me spiritually." This is the reason the author will never mend the skylight. It doesn't matter. Nothing matters. If the most important thing humans do is nothing in the face of the endless universal limbo of life and death, there is no point to mend the skylight. It will always be broken at some point. You might as well accept your fate and do the best with the "jews harp" and the "crayon" and the blueprint with the frayed edges.

    Some women wait for Jesus, and some women wait for Cain
    So I hang upon my altar
    And I hoist my axe again.
    And I take the one who finds me back to where it all began
    When Jesus was the honeymoon
    And Cain was just the man.
    And we read from pleasant Bibles that are bound in blood and skin
    That the wilderness is gathering
    All its children back again.

    Another dichotomy of purity and carnality. The best of human intention and the worst. The most important person in the book, and the most vile. The author claims to be a mixture of both who draws back the curtain on the illusion of good and bad absolutes and shows his lovers that Jesus is a "honeymoon" (a vacation before the real work necessary to understand matters of spiritual importance such as the Ouroboros), and Cain was just a man like anyone else, who managed to commit horrific crimes. These stories are those that "we' read from "pleasant" Bibles (books that are supposed to be helpful for humanity), that are filled with images of murder and death ("bound in blood and skin") and foul deeds, and in this the author has come to understand that the "Wilderness is gathering all its children back again," as in; we all die, nature will claim all of our bodies to feed the endless cycle of serpent eating its tail, and no matter how much we tell ourselves about the "honeymoon" jesus and the man who kills his brother, these are just fables and illustrations we might use to guide us briefly before we're reduced to the universal equivalent of "raw material."


    The rain falls down on last year's man,
    An hour has gone by
    And he has not moved his hand.
    But everything will happen if he only gives the word;
    The lovers will rise up
    And the mountains touch the ground.
    But the skylight is like skin for a drum I'll never mend
    And all the rain falls down amen
    On the works of last year's man.

    The author knows that he could mend the skylight "if he only gives the word," in fact, with his "word' he could easily make the "lovers... rise up," but the mountains already do touch the ground (it's where they came from) and he'll never mend the skylight because time moves ever forward, and he is "last years man" like every single one of us will always be.
    mortsubiteon October 21, 2016   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think that this song is about religion. The decision between Christianity and Judaism. Which is correct - maybe both? I also think that Cohen is trying to say that religion is something of the past.
    Maybe I've got it all wrong though...
    Elaeson October 29, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThere's no way not to smile at the line "Bethlehem inflamed us both
    like the shy one at some orgy," very clever image.
    Also, both of the past comments seem correct, last years man must be god or some sort of creator as the rain is falling down on the earth/his works.
    At the same time it is 'last year's' man and there is a lot of anti-religious imagery (some wait for jesus and some wait for cain).
    I can't really figure out the sky light imagery, if anyone has an idea, clue us in.
    Its seems odd that God would be looking up through a skylight rather than down on the earth
    justjewy18on December 15, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI don't know about all the religous connotations, but a track for solitude and reflection - great imagery.
    jondurianon March 06, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think this is one of the deepest songs Cohen ever wrote, if not the deepest.

    This song is about Cohen's Spirit, his new born life that he confirms with songs like Last Year's man, Hallelujah, Sisters of Mercy, Bird on the Wire and others. It is undoubtley that Cohen is influenced with the Word of God ("there's a baze of light in Every Word") as he says ih Hallelujah. In this song, we also have connections with Cohens fascinantion and passion of Word in Bible.
    Prof of that is in this song also: "But everything will happen if he only gives the word" - this verse is of course clear reflection on Mathew 8-8 - every who knows Bible very well will know that.

    When Cohen is in love, he describes feeling and stata of love as a highest God's gift - describeing it as most perfect harmony in life, a highest gift from the sky - this stands for words: "and Bethlehem inflamed us both" - describing state of emotions beetween he and that woman that was femme fatale.

    This song is a mixture of witer's personal insight voice and reflect his person in deep.
    Cohen when speaking, actually writes about his spiritual growth, his connection with Living God. His love life, his falls - because he is very emotional - that is why he writes about Joan of Arc - hero woman, but also about hurted people who fought for heart of that woman which she (maybe not with her will, but because of choices she had in life) hurted because she is femme fatale:
    "all these wounded boys you lie beside"

    In Bible, "Great Babilon" is described as fallen being (like fallen city). It is also described as female, and as place where everyone should espace form (John's Revelation). Betlehem, on the other hand, is place of goodnes - place of birth of living Word, Way, Truth, and Life.
    So, we have a fight beetween of good and evil. I personally think it is fight in Cohen that is also that fight. But Cohen is in good side, and want's to stand in front of evil:

    "And when we fell together all our flesh was like a veil
    that I had to draw aside to see
    the serpent eat its tail."

    I think that Cohen with this verses proves that he's fought seprent with his mind.. and his spirit defeated evil in, as he actually describes his fight with seprent - his personal spiritual growth is point off his life were he could see and feel more and more clearly serpent's presence. He puts himself in place of good - place of God and Spirit which he strongly believes and lusts for it.

    This, as many Cohen songs, is actually about Cohens strong and deep faith in God - which he finds in Bible, in Jeusus - living Word, and in nature.


    Words: "and all the rain falls down amen
    on the works of last year's man"

    mean that Cohen agrees in his humble spirit with his tears in life, and that also ceans his spirit from sins - he proves that with word "amen".
    And works of the last year's man - are works of Cohen himslef - old Cohen, wthout spirit in his Heart, without him knowing the Living Word of God, and with his old ways. Now all that sins are washed away by blood of the one that is mentioned in Betlehem ("and all the rain falls down amen") - and Cohen says "amen".



    Dario, Croatia
    honest1on July 02, 2011   Link
  • 0
    Song MeaningI think this is one of the deepest songs Cohen ever wrote, if not the deepest.

    This song is about Cohen's Spirit, his new born life that he confirms with songs like Last Year's man, Hallelujah, Sisters of Mercy, Bird on the Wire and others. It is undoubtley that Cohen is influenced with the Word of God ("there's a baze of light in Every Word") as he says ih Hallelujah. In this song, we also have connections with Cohens fascinantion and passion of Word in Bible.
    Prof of that is in this song also: "But everything will happen if he only gives the word" - this verse is of course clear reflection on Mathew 8-8 - every who knows Bible very well will know that.

    When Cohen is in love, he describes feeling and stata of love as a highest God's gift - describeing it as most perfect harmony in life, a highest gift from the sky - this stands for words: "and Bethlehem inflamed us both" - describing state of emotions beetween he and that woman that was femme fatale.

    This song is a mixture of witer's personal insight voice and reflect his person in deep.
    Cohen when speaking, actually writes about his spiritual growth, his connection with Living God. His love life, his falls - because he is very emotional - that is why he writes about Joan of Arc - hero woman, but also about hurted people who fought for heart of that woman which she (maybe not with her will, but because of choices she had in life) hurted because she is femme fatale:
    "all these wounded boys you lie beside"

    In Bible, "Great Babilon" is described as fallen being (like fallen city). It is also described as female, and as place where everyone should espace form (John's Revelation). Betlehem, on the other hand, is place of goodnes - place of birth of living Word, Way, Truth, and Life.
    So, we have a fight beetween of good and evil. I personally think it is fight in Cohen that is also that fight. But Cohen is in good side, and want's to stand in front of evil:

    "And when we fell together all our flesh was like a veil
    that I had to draw aside to see
    the serpent eat its tail."

    I think that Cohen with this verses proves that he's fought seprent with his mind.. and his spirit defeated evil in, as he actually describes his fight with seprent - his personal spiritual growth is point off his life were he could see and feel more and more clearly serpent's presence. He puts himself in place of good - place of God and Spirit which he strongly believes and lusts for it.

    This, as many Cohen songs, is actually about Cohens strong and deep faith in God - which he finds in Bible, in Jeusus - living Word, and in nature.


    Words: "and all the rain falls down amen
    on the works of last year's man"

    mean that Cohen agrees in his humble spirit with his tears in life, and that also ceans his spirit from sins - he proves that with word "amen".
    And works of the last year's man - are works of Cohen himslef - old Cohen, wthout spirit in his Heart, without him knowing the Living Word of God, and with his old ways. Now all that sins are washed away by blood of the one that is mentioned in Betlehem ("and all the rain falls down amen") - and Cohen says "amen".



    Dario, Croatia
    honest1on July 02, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think this song is about Cohen's relationship with Joni Mitchell.

    He sees himself alone in an apartment in New York without her. The Jew's harp is on the table in front of him. Its raining and the rain is pounding on the skylight above him. He is trying to write the lyrics for a song - this song.

    The blueprint of what he thought would be his relationship with Joni has its edges rolled up - it is ruined.

    And now we meet Joni or at least he remembers her. She has many lovers competing for her love. They are the soldiers of whom Cohen is one. They all originally think she is a regular woman that they can dominate only to find out one by one how powerful - almost godlike - she is, and how she dominates the relationships she forms.

    Cohen thanks Joni for not hurting him too deeply when she ended their relationship and he makes note of the suffering among all the other soldiers who are wounded in their pursuit of love with her. (Graham Nash, for example.)

    The wedding between old families symbolizes the relationship between Cohen, whose old family is that of the Jews, and Joni', whose old family is that of the gentiles. But the usual gender roles are reversed. The groom is the innocent one (Bethlehem) and the bride is the epitome of experience and jadedness (Babylon).

    The purity that was left in each of them enflamed their relationship and their passion masked (veiled) for awhile the jadedness that Cohen ultimately found in Joni, represented by the serpent.

    Cohen comments that Joni seems to be looking for someone who is as jaded as she is (Cain) rather than someone as pure hearted as Cohen (Jesus). So, having lost Joni, Cohen has returned to his roots, playing songs on his guitar (axe) and taking whichever woman likes his music home to bed. But these women are traditional women who look to the man to be the aggressor and dominator of the ralationship (Cain).

    Cohen notes that the truth expressed in the press (which is filled with news of the bloody conflict in Viet Nam and thus is bound in blood and skin) is that Joni has retreated back to Laurel Canyon where the wilderness is gathering the hippies together again (the California music scene - Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, Jackson Brown, Kris Kristopherson, etc.)

    Now Cohen is back in his apartment and he hasn't written anything. His hand hasn't moved. But he knows that when he does write, he will tell the story of himself and Joni (the lovers rising up) and their return to earth (the mountains touching down). It's still raining and drumming on the skylight. And ironically, the story has now been told in the works of last year's man.

    AlecDon February 06, 2015   Link

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